Happy Birthday, Charlotte Brontë 21 April 1816 - 31 March 1855

    To celebrate the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë's birth, I knew that that there was only one book I was going to talk about- her most celebrated, Jane Eyre. That's not to say that there aren't other gems written by her. Of course there are and I will looking at those over the coming months. But Reader, for this special day, it has to be Jane Eyre


                                                                                     Image supplied copyright free by  John Cunliffe  available here.

    Most people read Jane Eyre when they are in their teens but I don't think I did. It would be a bit later than that, in my twenties, when I discovered this book which so many people talk about. Published in 1847, it was her first published novel but of couurse, Charlotte, together with her siblings had been writing since she was a child. She wrote her early Juvenalia, full of Byronic overtones, mainly with her brother, Branwell. The imaginary kingdom of Angria was far removed from the Yorkshire moors of her youth. On the surface, Jane Eyre takes a more realistic tone, but the gothic features and Byronic heroes are still there. 

    In Jane Eyre, Charlotte chooses to use the first person and address the reader directly. It is known as a bildungsroman in that it deals with the moral and psychological development of a character. Set in the north of England, Charlotte gives us a heroine who is plain, quiet, apparently unremarkable. Privy to Jane's thoughts, we know that she has a strong sense of self and equality. 

        "Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!— I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart!" 
                                                                       (Jane to Rochester) 

Jane's iron will to survive takes her through the emotional hardships of her early life. We follow her through her childhood where she is mistreated and ignored, through her education at Lowood School, into independent adulthood. The story of Jane Eyre has been interpreted through different perspectives and I can see within it the protofeminism expressed through Jane's desire to establish herself within a patriarchal society, as an equal. 

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”


   Jane may be plain and unremarkable on the outside but we are shown that she has a rich interior life. This has been the image filtered down over the years of Charlotte herself. Initially publishing under the pseudonym, Currer Bell, she passed under the radar. It was because of her that Emily's poems were published and she kept a tight hold on what the public knew of her sisters, allegedly destroying  Emily and Anne's papers after their death. 

    I would say that the most interesting aspect of Jane Eyre is how Charlotte has merged together the realistic outer world with an other worldly existence which you feel lies just below the surface. The gothic features of the wild settings, dark, isolated buildings and even darker, smouldering hero are all there , as is the symbolism of the red room of Jane's childhood and the madness kept locked away.  Some see this madness as victorian female sexuality, kept hidden and restrained. Throughout the book, we follow Jane's struggle internally between her passion and her conscience. We see her develop and take her opportunities. 

In short: Matchless - need I say more?

Follow the link to read my review of The Best Poems of the Brontë Sisters here. 
 
The Brontës have inspired many other books, some of which I have reviewed here:

 Yuki Chan in Bronte Country by Mick Jackson read here.
The Madwoman In the Attic by Catharine Lowell read here.
 Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye- read here.
  

I decided to read Jane Eyre as part of the Classics Club Challenge. My full list of books can be found here.   
 

Comments

  1. Jane Eyre is such a great book. What a nice idea, reading it to celebrate the author's birthday. I don't know if you've already read it or even if you would like it, but if you like sort of silly fantasy-mystery books that feature a healthy helping of bookish nerd stuff you might want to try Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair.

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    1. Thanks for dropping by. I do like reading books which have been sparked off by others but I haven't read The Eyre Affair yet.

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